Nov 28 2008

Writing Tip: Give Your Characters Urgent Goals, Not Joy Rides

Giving your characters urgent goals will help make your story dramatic and interesting.  For example, let’s say John wants to go to prom, but his parents won’t let him unless he does well on a chemistry test.  Will he actually go to prom?  That’s a dramatic question.

Unfortunately, many manuscripts introduce the character without a goal, hoping that readers will trudge along until the character actually has something to do.  Don’t trap yourself into something like this.

CADET DAVIS:  In this first chapter, your hero doesn’t do very much except for walking across town and chatting with another character.  What’s the point?  What’s he trying to accomplish?

AUTHOR:  He’s introducing himself and the setting.

CADET DAVIS:  That’s what you’re trying to accomplish.  What’s his goal?  What’s at stake for this character?

AUTHOR:  Well, nothing, not yet anyway.  In a few chapters, he’ll find out that he has to realize his destiny by going on a quest to stop the villain.

CADET DAVIS:  If nothing’s at stake now, why will readers find this chapter interesting?

AUTHOR:  *silence*

Unfortunately, if publishers or readers find your manuscript’s first few pages boring, they will not keep reading.  From the earliest part of your story, your main character needs to have a goal.

So what do you do if your hero doesn’t know what his main goal is yet?  For example, at the start of Harry Potter, Harry doesn’t know that his primary goal is to “go to Hogwarts and thwart Voldemort.”  He doesn’t even know that he’s a wizard.  J.K. Rowling used temporary goals to tide us over.  For example, “read the letter that Uncle Vernon is trying to hide from you.”  Those goals made him interesting even though we didn’t know anything about his magical destiny.

What sort of temporary goals work? Anything that has high-stakes for the character.  It doesn’t have to be life or death, of course. (Harry Potter only needed to obtain a letter!)

What sort of temporary goals don’t work?  Joy rides.  If a character is trying something just for kicks, or to have a good time or just because he’s curious, the stakes are probably not high enough for him for us to care.  One main exception to the rule against joy rides is that sometimes, deep into a superhero story, you can briefly show the character trying out his new superpowers.  That will stall the plot, but that’s mostly OK because we need to know what the hero is capable of.  Also, by that point of the story, you better have convinced readers that you have a plot or you are screwed anyway.

34 responses so far

34 Responses to “Writing Tip: Give Your Characters Urgent Goals, Not Joy Rides”

  1. Anonymous-Manon 18 Apr 2009 at 8:07 am

    But what about a “joy ride” at the start of the story that leads the main character to his mission, or another major character?

    For example, Bob is a bored teen, who steals a fancy looking car and takes it for a joy ride. The car he steals belongs to a vampire who pursues him. This leads to Bob’s main goal for the story, staying alive and finding a way to kill the vampire.

  2. B. Macon 18 Apr 2009 at 8:10 am

    If he steals the car because he’s bored, I feel that’s probably going to be boring. I’d recommend giving him a more pressing reason to steal the car. For example, he wants to impress a girl. He needs to win a street-race to pay for something crucial. Etc.

    Giving him a goal will make us care more about whether he lives or dies.

  3. Wingson 28 Apr 2009 at 9:13 am

    Well, my first goal is “get out of school, and go check out Ian’s car”.

    – Wings

  4. Moondragon007on 01 Oct 2009 at 2:19 pm

    I did an rpg thread where I started with the two main characters using their powers to apprehend a super-powered crook. Now I’ve fallen in love with the “villain” in this scene, so if I make it into a book, it’s going to turn out to be a demo for a congressman to persuade him to keep funding the team.

  5. Luna Jamniaon 15 Oct 2009 at 4:14 pm

    Yah, I’ve a problem with plot again.

    I’ve got great characters (I think) but no actual plot and I was considering maybe participating in NaNoWriMo. That’s not going to happen, but I’d still like the story to go somewhere.

    There’s this separate world that houses fairies–basically fairies of wind, water, seasons, etc. each living in their own environment in the realm except/unless they leave for a while to make autumn, or a flood (maybe the water fairies are mischievous? I don’t know) anyhow one of the autumn fairies has to for some reason, escape to earth. And to make herself less easy to find, she becomes visible and tunes down her true form, the problem is autumn still ‘follows’ her. She ends up in a small town and decides to stay there for a while, tired of wandering all over the place–the only time they can ‘teleport’ and not fly and/or travel like a normal human is when going from one world to the other.

    The problem is I’ve little idea of why on earth she has to leave her own realm, and why her fellow fairies wouldn’t be able to help her. I was thinking of something pathetically … pathetic (don’t laugh) along the lines of an earthquake fairy being obsessed with her and having random minions-random because why on earth would he have minions-try to get her so he can force her to marry him. I abandoned that idea quite early because it was so totally sad plot wise, so many plot holes in it, and because it shows how horrible my block has gotten that I’d consider such an awful plot.

    I’m quite desperate, too. I haven’t written/completed anything in quite a while and it’s total torture to not be able to.

  6. Luna Jamniaon 15 Oct 2009 at 4:19 pm

    I just need some plot help. ^^
    If it becomes more than that, I’d be happy to take it to my review forum. Unless I should’ve in the first place. I’m not quite sure.

  7. Lighting Manon 15 Oct 2009 at 4:28 pm

    Autumn isn’t all that great of a season all the time, there’s severe weather, people die, and if you were an Autumn fairy, your job would basically be to kill everything at the end of the day. Autumn is the time of the harvest because the once new-born animals are maturated and ready to be slaughtered, the plants are harvested because the frost will kill them soon. What if they are forced to do the fairy activities by a higher council that knows that the balance is essential to life? One day, she could come to Earth, receive word that she has to cause a tornado or some other disaster and while following orders, she ends up accidentally killing a human she had grown sympathetic towards? A young boy or girl? So she casts off her fairy coil, comes to Earth to escape the horrors she has been perpetrating for centuries.

    Her fellow fairies don’t follow because they can’t abandon their posts. If you think about climates, a winter fairy would still have to play with mountain tops, or other random parts of the world at almost all times. Depending on your market and tone, the winter fairies could be in charge of making sure that ice cube trays work and all kinds of mundane stuff.

  8. B. Macon 15 Oct 2009 at 4:30 pm

    What’s the protagonist’s personality like? What’s her goal? (Hopefully it’s not just reacting to the earthquake fairy’s plot– please make her proactive).

    Okay, just throwing out some random traits… Stir-crazy (bored), curmudgeonly, mentally sharp.

    She’s bored of doing the same thing all the time, autumn comes once a year for three months (and then a few months in another hemisphere, if you want to get technical). It’s routine and she wants a challenge. So she decides to jump off to Earth and try something completely new. Maybe she wants to experience the other seasons? Maybe she’s been teased one time too many by the other seasons and her goal is to make their life as difficult as possible.

    Then the question is, I think, how you would work humans or humanoids into the story. For example, perhaps a wizard is investigating why the weather has suddenly gone crazy.

  9. Luna Jamniaon 15 Oct 2009 at 6:25 pm

    @ Lighting Man, I guess I was thinking of autumn fairies as more like the foliage begins changing color and the temperature drops and all that, leaving the tornadoes and everything to wind fairies or chaos fairies or something.

    I do like the idea of her having to do something that goes against her morals or maybe she actually finds someone in serious, serious trouble but in accordance with fairy/realm law, she isn’t allowed to do anything; and they die while she’s watching …?

    And then she makes herself visible and decides to live on earth for a while and see if there’s some way she can use her abilities to help someone (though I doubt she could … really all she does is show up and travel around, wherever she travels-North America is her ‘territory’-fall begins?)

    Also, thanks for the last paragraph, that helps a lot, they would have to be dedicated to do what they do century after century.

    @ B. Mac
    That’s the huge problem, I really don’t know what her ‘goal’ is. Sometimes I have serious problems with goals-as I do in real life-because, I kind of view life as just …life. And stuff happens to you. It’s hard for me to go ‘and they may want to do this, and this is what they want to accomplish by the end of the story’ because it’s hard for me to write about anything that’s not even remotely true for myself or that I can’t really see.

    Very true. She would be quite bored. I was figuring a lot of it would be interacting with all the people and everything. I mean … whatever happens, in all of her years of bringing autumn to earth she’s resisted the urge to appear and talk with humans as long as she can and just goes through towns and cities being careful not to pay attention to much, otherwise she’d distract and tempt herself. So if she had free reign whether by rebellion or just escaping, I’m sure I could come up with a lot of interesting stuff that happens to her.

    Also, it’s in modern times … which I kind of like because, well, fairies? 🙂 Nobody on earth would believe it. The thing about the investigating or bringing news networks-autumn in the middle of a Georgia/Pen./NY/wherever summer!? Possible ‘breaking news’-or anyone into the picture is I have serious issues with how they’d go about things and act. Just like if I ever mention police investigations or whatehaveyou in my other stories, I don’t go very in depth at all because I have no actual idea what really goes on and what talk they’d use and and … yah.

    Wow. Long post (sorry). In a nutshell, I like a lot of both of your thoughts/ideas plotwise and I think I’ll combine them. ^^
    Thanks, guys.

  10. RikuTomoshibion 13 Nov 2009 at 4:18 pm

    I’ve never really had this problem. When Dante Valin isn’t trying to figure out what to do or where to go, or in some cases, who to trust and follow, he’s trying to either run from Fatum, the dicator’s militia, or hinder them so that he can get closer to his ultimate goal.

  11. BigBlondoon 30 Sep 2011 at 6:55 pm

    … Heh, these reply comments on this site are a little harsh don’t you think… Even on new people.(writers)

  12. BigBlondoon 30 Sep 2011 at 6:59 pm

    Not being mean (if so I’m not) it’s just expects you to know everything about writing here. (Not sure if your goal here is to discourage others) dunno, just feels that way.

  13. BigBlondoon 30 Sep 2011 at 7:11 pm

    And if you ask questions the replies will be “You should feel stupid because of this” type. If you are offended by this, I am sorry, it’s just how I’m feeling here. You’ll probably say a mean response to this because I’m a teenager and I’m a (newb) to writing. I feel that the responses to questions are supposed to make you feel ashamed for ever asking. Maybe the world is like that doubting people to ask for help. I’m not sure, to me every writing website gives you harsh answers.. :/ Maybe it’s just me

  14. BigBlondoon 30 Sep 2011 at 7:19 pm

    I mean the tips on this site (most) to me are great. Some, mostly the replies discourage you from even trying to write. It takes the fun out of even writing. (By the way, I don’t want to be published, Im afraid of rejection and mean comments that criticize. I just want to know how to write a story without having to worry about questions about how good do you think it is compared to other “famous” writers…) Are you allowed to just write for fun? Or is that bad also? (U know I just want to see my characters come to life, without all the other tensions.)
    By the way my name isn’t big blondo, it’s Hina (sorry)

  15. B. McKenzieon 30 Sep 2011 at 10:38 pm

    “These reply comments on this site are a little harsh don’t you think… Even on new writers.” I feel that the comments on SN are noticeably gentler than the average publishing website. For example, Flogging the Quill, Query Shark and Evil Editor are all excellent resources, but generally more curt than SN. For example, Evil Editor’s (immensely helpful) review of my query included quotes such as “You may not have meant it this way, but you managed to insult professional writers while talking down to teens,” “This is a bad query letter,” and “You might be a really nice person trying to sound confident and sell her/himself, but you came out sounding pompous*.” All of those claims are entirely professional and I feel that EE’s suggestions for improvement helped me grow as an author.

    *I do have a pompous streak.

    That said, I feel I have been pretty consistently polite. For example, I’m pretty religious about using qualifying phrases like “I think” and “I feel” to reinforce that almost everything I cover (besides most of the grammar/punctuation/mechanics) is just my opinion. It’s possible for intelligent people to disagree without either being wrong.

    “And if you ask questions the replies will be ‘You should feel stupid because of this’ type.” Hmm, could you give me some examples there? I’m having trouble reconciling your assessment with mine. Alternately, could you give some examples of publishing professionals that are noticeably more polite/welcoming than I am? I’m always up for learning new diplomatic skills.



    “You’ll probably say a mean response to this because I’m a teenager and I’m a (newb) to writing. I feel that the responses to questions are supposed to make you feel ashamed for ever asking.” Hmm, again, I would appreciate if you could give me some examples here. Currently, my impression is that my advice and suggestions are generally pretty polite. Quite a few authors–at least 100, including at least 10 teenagers–have asked me for help or advice more than once, which suggests to me that I’m on the right track.



    “By the way, I don’t want to be published, I’m afraid of rejection and mean comments that criticize.” I feel that criticism can be an immensely helpful aspect of the learning process. However, I see that your expectations for your work are very different (not worse, not wrong, just different) than the expectations of most professional authors and prospective professionals. So, please feel to write your heart out for fun. However, because our expectations are so different, I don’t think I can offer you much advice that would actually help you. My apologies.

  16. BigBlondoon 01 Oct 2011 at 7:36 am

    Well I don’t know, sorry for being mean. It’s just that other writing websites are very harsh and I took some of the replies in the wrong way. I just don’t know when I should write, it seems like I have to do a bunch of extra things before I even write. Other websites for writing doubt people a lot (well maybe some).

  17. Damzoon 01 Oct 2011 at 9:04 am

    Hey Hina, B.Mac has covered most of it. I have been on this site since the beginning of the year, and it has greatly improved my writing, though I have never gotten a response that is harsh or discouraging. This is a community of writers that want to learn and express their love for the art, so we have no reason to discourage our fellow writers.

    Also if you have a basic plot line we can help you expand it to become a full fledged story (if you want of course).

    Lastly this is not another writing site, this is SN.

  18. Chihuahua0on 01 Oct 2011 at 4:02 pm

    I had been thinking a lot about goals and objectives lately, especially relating to the scenes.

    For example, my protagonist’s first goal is: “Make a good first impression with Finn, who is the exchange student staying with him for a semester.”

    The motivation behind it is: “Making a bad first impression could possibly turn off the exchange student, who seems a little fragile, making the whole experience a little more difficult on the long-run. Plus, his father’s there with them.”

    Result: Finn both intrigues and disturbs Bryan by the way he acts, which starts the domino chain for the first reveal (Finn is a psychic, and spirits are real).

    Making good goals for Bryan is important, since he supposed to be very proactive.

    There’s this improv exercise that I played in middle school Drama class that I been trying to apply to each scene I write. I’ll share it later once I deal with two things: My writing, and Team Fortress 2.

  19. SilverWolfon 07 May 2012 at 7:50 pm

    Hi B. McKenzie.
    Uggh,I have a big plot problem there is nothing driving it:
    My characters are, in my opinion, reasonably well developed, as is my plot line… but the overall effect is full of plot holes and feels flat.
    My main characters (there are four, three of which have powers) live in a made-up city, Brayar, in Australia. There has been a gang war going for a few years, and at the beginning of the book there is no end in sight and recently; strange golem-like creatures (nicknamed chargelings by the press) have been turning up and causing problems too.
    My MC’s don’t start out as super heroes, only VERY late in the story do the public start to call them superheroes (and even later do they themselves admit it).
    My characters discover a list of the six top gangs, in Brayar, and there leaders.
    They also find that each of the leaders are being supplied with lots chargelings (they command them telepathically with them).
    The main plotline is about them working their way up the list and eventually taking out the source of most of the crime in the city (and the source of the chargelings). Early on one of the four MCs go power mad, because everyone who develops powers, and are older [even by a second] then the main character, go mad.
    They don’t win every battle and even a few civilians get killed by their mistakes, but they do eventually get all the leaders.
    The earth is supposed to be exactly like the way it is now (2012), with only a few alterations…. i.e. no superheroes (except in comics), same weapons, no magic, same old police force (“shoot/arrest the flying human first, ask questions later” type).
    The main character was born halfway through the event and so the chemical is not as strong in him as everyone else, and towards the ending has real problems controlling his anger (although hi is not the type to get angry often).

    The main problems are that I have no idea how they get hold of the list, and why they don’t just hand it over to the police anyway. It doesn’t feel like there is anything stopping them from walking away from the plot. It is infuriating me! I just can’t think of anything. :’(
    Can I have some help?

    (P.S. Sorry that post was a lot longer than I thought it would be.)

  20. SilverWolfon 08 May 2012 at 12:34 am

    Gahhh… stupid laptop, sorry; when I pasted my last post over from Open Office many things became screwed up (getting word soon though), I’ll re-post it:

    My characters are, in my opinion, reasonably well developed, as is my plot line… but the overall effect is feels flat and full of plot-holes.
    My main characters (there are four, three of which have powers) live in a made-up city, Brayar, in Australia. There has been a gang war going for a few years, and at the beginning of the book there is no end of the war in sight. Recently, strange golem-like creatures (nicknamed ‘chargelings’ by the press) have been turning up and causing problems too.
    My MC’s don’t start out as super heroes, only VERY late in the story do the public start to call them superheroes (and even LATER do they themselves admit it).
    My characters discover a list of the six top gangs, in Brayar, and the names of their leaders.
    They also find that each of the leaders are being supplied with chargelings (and can command them telepathically).
    The main plotline is about them working their way up the list and eventually taking out the source of most of the crime in the city (and the source of the chargelings). Reasonably early on; one of the four MCs goes power mad; getting angry all the time and eventually spits from the group.

    They don’t win every battle and even a few civilians get killed in the heat of some battles, but they do eventually ‘get’ all the leaders.
    The earth is supposed to be exactly like the way it is now (2012), with only a few alterations…. i.e. no already-existing superheroes (except in comics), same type of weapons development, no magic, and the same old police force (the “shoot/arrest the flying human first, ask questions later” type).
    For certain reasons (considering how they got their powers) towards the end, the main character has real problems controlling his anger (although hi is not the type to get angry often).

    The main problems are that I have no idea how they get hold of the list, why they decide to fight them, and not just hand it over to the police. It doesn’t feel like there is anything stopping them from walking away from the plot. It is infuriating me! I just can’t think of anything. :’(

  21. SilverWolfon 08 May 2012 at 12:38 am

    Gahhh… stupid laptop, sorry; when I pasted my last post over from Open Office many things became screwed up (getting word soon though), I’ll re-post it:

    My characters, in my opinion, are reasonably well developed, as is my plot line… but the overall effect is feels flat and full of plot-holes.
    My main characters (there are four, three of which have powers) live in a made-up city, Brayar, in Australia. There has been a gang war going for a few years, and at the beginning of the book there is no end of the war in sight. Recently, strange golem-like creatures (nicknamed ‘chargelings’ by the press) have been turning up and causing problems too.
    My MC’s don’t start out as super heroes, only VERY late in the story do the public start to call them superheroes (and even LATER do they themselves admit it).
    My characters discover a list of the six top gangs, in Brayar, and the names of their leaders.
    They also find that each of the leaders are being supplied with chargelings (and can command them telepathically).
    The main plotline is about them working their way up the list and eventually taking out the source of most of the crime in the city (and the source of the chargelings). Reasonably early on; one of the four MCs goes power mad; getting angry all the time and eventually spits from the group.

    They don’t win every battle and even a few civilians get killed in the heat of some battles, but they do eventually ‘get’ all the leaders.
    The earth is supposed to be exactly like the way it is now (2012), with only a few alterations…. i.e. no already-existing superheroes (except in comics), same type of weapons development, no magic, and the same old police force (the “shoot/arrest the flying human first, ask questions later” type).
    For certain reasons (considering how they got their powers) towards the end, the main character has real problems controlling his anger (although hi is not the type to get angry often).

    The main problems are that I have no idea how they get hold of the list, why they decide to fight them, and not just hand it over to the police. It doesn’t feel like there is anything stopping them from walking away from the plot. It is infuriating me! I just can’t think of anything. :’(

  22. B. McKenzieon 08 May 2012 at 2:50 am

    “Early on one of the four MCs go power mad, because everyone who develops powers, and are older [even by a second] then the main character, go mad.” If the explanation here makes sense to readers, I think this could be workable. My first reaction was that making all of the older superpowered people crazy feels like a forced way to clear the path for young adult heroes. Your later explanation makes it sound like it could feel natural. I’m not quite sure why being one second older than the main character would make such a huge difference in terms of chemical exposure, though. That must have been one hell of a second.

    “The main plotline is about them working their way up the list and eventually taking out the source of most of the crime in the city.” There are six gang leaders on the list, right? I feel like the hunt for all six could start to feel too formulaic and you’re telling readers what the formula is (e.g. the characters are going to hunt for one leader, then the next, then the next… around #3 or #4, I think the leaders and hunts are going to start blurring together). One possibility that might help would be cutting the number of gangs and spending more time on each hunt. Rolling up even one gang could be involved enough to take up an entire novel (see the first season of The Wire to see how that process can be developed in great length)… It might help to cut this down to 1-2 gangs so that you have more length to develop each antagonist and so that the formula doesn’t get monotonous.

    “The main problems are that I have no idea how they get hold of the list…” Maybe they recover it from a dead journalist who was killed because he got too close. Or maybe they, in the course of their investigation, interrogate and/or turn a very well-placed criminal and he tells them. Maybe the identities of the gang leaders are an open secret in the city (e.g. it’s widely believed in Marvel’s NYC that Wilson Fisk is a criminal kingpin, but the police can’t prove it in court on their own).

    “…and why they don’t just hand it over to the police anyway.” They could make a copy of the list and give it to the police, but it probably wouldn’t make much of a difference. (I could make a list claiming that Bruce Willis and Jimmy Carter* are Mafia bosses, but the list does not actually prove anything). Their list wouldn’t get the police much closer to putting anybody behind bars. Besides, the police get anonymous tips every day, most of which are hopelessly wrong–and the police don’t have any easy way of verifying this one. If the police are mostly antagonistic, they might not be that serious about putting anybody behind bars because many officers and/or politicians are taking money from the criminals.

    *If Jimmy Carter actually were a Mafia boss, we can only speculate what excruciating demise befell the swamp rabbit.

    “It doesn’t feel like there is anything stopping them from walking away from the plot.” Really?
    1) The city faces a supernatural menace, and it sounds like your protagonists are more or less the only superpowered people that aren’t crazy.

    2) The police sound poorly-equipped to deal with the situation.

    3) Even if the characters wanted to walk away, could they? Early on, they might see something that means that the mob will keep after them until they’re dead. For example, maybe they’re the first guys at the crime scene where the journalist gets killed. The mob learns something about them while they are escaping (e.g. a general idea of what they look like). If the mob is looking hard for them, their best plan of survival is to do whatever it takes to beat the mob first.

    4) That swamp rabbit couldn’t have shot itself eight times in the head.

  23. SilverWolfon 08 May 2012 at 6:07 pm

    Thanks that was really helpful.
    I wasn’t supposed to mention the chemical yet, I must of got ahead of myself.

    ‘Reasonably early on; one of the four MCs goes power mad; getting angry all the time and eventually spits from the group.’

    ‘The main character was born halfway through the event and so the chemical is not as strong in him as everyone else, and towards the ending has real problems controlling his anger (although he is not the type to get angry often).’

    I’ll explain:
    Basically two out of every ten humans (roughly) gain new ‘reflex’ cells that activate if their life is in danger, giving them powers that could save there lives. This evolution was brought about by a cosmic event near earth, literally just before the main character’s birth, and children born after the event also (as well as the ‘reflex’ cells) developed a new chemical (kind of like adrenalin) that can monitor and control this new found power, but humans born BEFORE the event don’t have that, still unnamed, chemical and so eventually go power mad or insane.

    My main character was born halfway through the event and, so, does not have as much control over the powers as his friends, but it makes the powers more powerful (he is the only person to develop the ability to fly [he gets chucked out of a helicopter], so where most people would get force fields or teleportation, he ends up “defying gravity”)

  24. B. McKenzieon 08 May 2012 at 7:43 pm

    Hmm… If 20% of humans have these new reflex cells, we’re probably looking at tens of thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands) of people in the city that have superpowers. I think the main characters might feel more exceptional if there were fewer people with superpowers. (Also, the situation might be more urgent if they were the only ones, or pretty much the only ones, that could do the job).

  25. SilverWolfon 08 May 2012 at 10:39 pm

    Hmmm. Okay, that’s what I was going for anyway.
    One would only develop powers if you’re in a very high-stress/life threatening situation AND you have reflex cells (not everyone got them).
    But I think that you are right, the number should be lower.
    Actually, screw the number. They will just have to be lucky. ^_^

  26. SilverWolfon 08 May 2012 at 10:43 pm

    Okay, I was going for not many people having powers.
    (Sorry, just clearing up the first sentence my last post.)

  27. B. McKenzieon 09 May 2012 at 1:10 am

    “One would only develop powers if you’re in a very high-stress/life threatening situation AND you have reflex cells (not everyone got them).” Okay.

    In Chicago, a city of about 3 million, there are about 23,000 deaths each year and probably tens of thousands of close calls. So even in a relatively small city, if 20% of otherwise-fatal situations resulted in superpowers, we’d have many thousands of superpowered people. One possibility is that the reflex cells are only activated by cases involving severe physical trauma (such as violent attacks, major car accidents and plane crashes, but NOT more mundane medical situations like heart attacks, strokes or most diseases). Relatively few deaths entail violent physical trauma, so it’s possible that we might only be looking at, I don’t know, 20% of a few hundred cases in the city each year?

    Another consideration would be decreasing the percentage from 20% depending on how rare you want superpowers to be.

  28. SilverWolfon 09 May 2012 at 1:46 am

    YES! That woud work very well indeed. Thanks.

  29. DDTLon 05 Jul 2013 at 3:56 am

    Hi B.Mac

    My problem is that my story litteraly starts with the birth (or the hatchering) of the two main characters. Since they are non-human (Reptilian beings), I though that starting the story that way would be better to immerse the reader in this non-human environment (my Reptiles are almost autonomous right after they hatch and grow much faster than humans).

    Their immediate goal is to explore their surroundings, find out where they are, who they are and where are they going. It’s only after 3-5 of pages that they get a more “complex” goal.

    The first protagonist, having hatched in the slum, immediately wants to reach the nice looking skyscrapers of the city center and comes quickly in conflict with the very hostile environment she is stuck in. Later comes the dilemna, what path will she choose to get out of this urban hell ? She has to find a group, get bullied, witness a cargo-plane crashes into the surburbs, get an object, receive an exchange proposition, and so on…

    The second protagonist, on the opposite, hatches inside an incubator with wires connected to her body (suggesting right in the first paragraph that she was engineered rather than naturally conceived) in one of the nice looking skyscrapers of the city center. Her immediate goal is to find out where she is, who she is, who are these people in white coat all around her. After just enough exposition to set the context as quickly as possible while matching her awakening, she has a goal : becoming the supreme Reptile of her totalitarian nation by becoming a super soldier. But while training she quickly discovered that she is physically unfit due to her artificial conception, worst : her health is alarmingly degrading and she has to take a sh** load of drugs just to stay alive. Here comes the conflict: how can you incarnate the perfect Reptile with such an imperfect body ? and the urgency: she has a very short lifespan. And then things get wierder when she discovered and gradually mastered telekinetic powers of unknown origins… Leading to her new decision: going around in the city and performing miracles using her telekinetic powers, for the sake of becoming an heroic figure and ultimately the superior Reptile (so purely selfish motivation here). All of this in her very first chapter (11 pages in French). Next chapter she attempts a first excursion as a “superhero” which leads to a complete disaster…

    What do you think ? Is there enough emergency/interesting motivations for both characters ?

  30. Thalamuson 02 Aug 2013 at 2:24 am

    To introduce my character, I wanted to have him witness a theft in a local shop, where the criminal has a gun, and for him to stop the thief despite being in full view of the customers (the story is an urban fantasy – to avoid confusion with a superhero story, I’ll be sure to play up the sorcery elements of the fight). Is this a decent first goal – to try and stop a thief without revealing magic (and without hurting anyone severely – he couldn’t, for example, conjure an inferno to burn the thief alive, for the sake of money)? I think it works as it shows his morality (he is willing to chase after a man wielding a gun, which could kill him, as all magic requires speech, which takes time), his abilities (he uses the most basic skills of magic to stop the thief and accomplices), and his goal of not revealing magic to others. What do you think?

  31. Thalamuson 03 Aug 2013 at 12:28 am

    As with my post on the “urgent goals” comments, I would like some feedback if possible. Sorry if I sound whiny, but there isn’t really a way of drawing attention to yourself that comes across as pleasant.

  32. B. McKenzieon 04 Aug 2013 at 11:09 pm

    “To introduce my character, I wanted to have him witness a theft in a local shop, where the criminal has a gun, and for him to stop the thief despite being in full view of the customers (the story is an urban fantasy – to avoid confusion with a superhero story, I’ll be sure to play up the sorcery elements of the fight).” One potential concern I’d have here about whether the character is actually getting an opportunity to develop himself. If the scene just presents a sort of generic hero using magic to stop a generic crime, I’d recommend revising it and/or picking a different scene.

    “I think it works as it shows his morality (he is willing to chase after a man wielding a gun, which could kill him, as all magic requires speech, which takes time), his abilities (he uses the most basic skills of magic to stop the thief and accomplices), and his goal of not revealing magic to others. What do you think?” I could be mistaken, but if you asked your most excited readers what interested them the most about the character, I suspect they probably wouldn’t lead with his morality, his abilities, or his goal to maintain secrecy. If possible, I’d recommend giving the character an opportunity to make a more unusual choice and/or show off an unusual personality and/or personal style. I think those elements matter more than his capabilities or a moral dilemma where he’s doing the same thing that 90%+ protagonists would do in the same situation.

  33. Thalamuson 05 Aug 2013 at 1:25 am

    Fair enough. I am having difficulty thinking of a way to open the story and show the main character, and I thank you for the advice. Back to the drawing board…

  34. Byakuya91on 05 Jan 2016 at 11:48 pm

    Great article. I have often noticed stories that have urgent goals tend to be more enjoyable, than ones without them. With that said, my current work(which I am revising for a third time), unfortunately, suffered from this. Hence, I wish to gain some advice and rectify it.

    Synopsis: After receiving some strange dreams, Derek Masters has been selected to join the Adjudicators of the Infinite Realms; a policing organization that protects the innocent. On top of his duties, school and social life, when a syndicate descends on earth, bent on destroying it; the teenager’s life takes a sharp turn. Will he be able to stop the group? Or will his whole world crumble?

    I apologize if that is long. I am currently restructuring the plot. Derek’s goal before joining the Adjudicators was becoming soccer captain on his team. He was his school’s top player. However, his best friend, Tom, is also gunning for the position. Thus, they have a rivalry.

    But upon being inducted within the Adjudicators, Derek tries to balance his goal of becoming soccer captain, while also trying to save the world. And in fact, I want to explore the idea, where Derek actually does become soccer captain, but finds the job difficult.

    This being he needs to balance his commitment to the team and fighting the good fight. And I kind of want this to be a major decision Derek makes between soccer and being a hero( as one of the reasons why he chose to become an Adjudicator was to make a difference and give back).

    An example of this being that he catches wind of an emergency situation, while in the middle of a heated game, and chooses to stay and play the game; rather, than help. Not knowing there were immense consequences.

    The other goal I want to give him is a subplot of him trying to save a western memorabilia store. Given he loves westerns(in the story, he wishes to be like the heroes of the west, like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood etc.), he obviously does not want to see the store and the shopkeeper out of business.

    Given his superhero is western inspired, I was looking at him possibly trying to use his identity as Marshal Malachite to promote the store. A consequence of that might be his friends don’t agree he should be doing that( as he should be focusing on bigger problems, like the Syndicate), but Derek disagrees and says they are connected.

    The consequence is that his promotion causes the shopkeeper to have a target painted on her head by the enemy.

    These are some of my ideas. I am not sure, they are any good.

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